Wayne State University’s Studio Theatre is home to the PhD Directors’ Series and a perfect venue for the gifted students in the Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance.
Their newest production is “Time Stands Still,” the Tony-nominated play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies. It’s one of those seemingly simple plays that takes place entirely within the Brooklyn flat of war correspondents and lovers Sarah and James. But the distance we travel emotionally and the complex, contradictory points of view expressed in the dialogue, give this drama a delicate intelligence and unpretentious sophistication.
The Studio Theatre cast, under the direction of second-year PhD student Katherine Skoretz, is most impressive.
The play opens as Sarah (Sydney Machesky), a photo journalist, returns home after being seriously injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Her boyfriend James (Carl Ghigliazza) feels guilty about not being with Sarah when she was nearly killed. But he is dealing with his own emotional trauma. Sarah’s scars show. James’ do not. Both are trying to come to terms with their feelings about witnessing outrageous horrors and being required to maintain a professional detachment. Are they helping the victims of these tragedies by getting the story out to the rest of the world? Or are they exploiting the victims for personal gain?
The name of the play comes from Sarah’s description of how she copes with the horror she witnesses as part of her job. When she’s looking at the world through her camera lens, searching for the perfect shot, “time stands still.”
The perspective of these war-hardened journalists is contrasted to that of their friend Richard (Michael Fisher) and his young girlfriend, Mandy (Maria Radu). She is sincere but naïve, and doesn’t understand how Sarah can witness human suffering without wanting to put down her camera and help her subjects. Sarah believes it is up to journalists to show people the truth – the hard reality of what some people endure. Mandy admires the raw beauty of Sarah’s work, but doesn’t know what she’s supposed to with that “truth” except feel bad about it.
“We are a nation born to movement,” Director Katherine Skoretz explains. “We are also a nation of crusaders, believing that we can change the world for the better, even when we aren’t sure how to do that. Our desire to change the world for the better conflicts with our desire to be comfortable. Since September 11 we have seen a massive deployment of Americans trying to make a difference in the world: both soldiers and civilians. In the last couple of years, playwrights, like Donald Margulies, have been writing about what happens when veterans of war zones come home. What does home mean when we’re intimately confronted with what goes on in war zones?”
Ultimately, this play explores the need for home and comfort as weighed against the addictive satisfaction of being the person who can deliver the goods in the midst of imminent danger, chaos and overwhelming human tragedy. Sarah and James are seeking healing together, but where does that healing lead? Should they go back out on assignment in the Middle East, or stay home and build a new, more conventional but safer life? Is it “okay” to choose happiness, or is that even an option when daily horrors continue to disrupt the world?
This thoughtful production of “Time Stands Still” raises important questions without forcing the answers. Sydney Machesky, as the wounded Sarah, finds the right balance of smart and bitchy, tough and vulnerable. Carl Ghigliazza, as James, is the conflicted man who loves Sarah because of her fearlessness but is terrified of losing her. Michael Fisher, as Richard, is convincing as the average good, informed American guy trying not to feel guilty about choosing happiness. And Maria Radu, as Mandy, gives the play its chief comic relief and, in some ways, its most empathetic and grounded character.
The stellar production company includes Cassandra Maniak (Stage Manager), Amy Schneider (Lighting Designer), Lois Bendler (Scenic Designer), Melissa Hall (Costume Designer), Michael Hallberg (Sound Designer), and Felix Li (Publicity Manager).
“Time Stands Still” runs through Saturday, April 6, 2013. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 – $12 and are available by calling the Studio Theatre Box Office at (313)577-2972, by purchasing them online, or by visiting the box office in the Hilberry Theatre located at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock. The Studio Theatre is located downstairs from the Hilberry.